In 1995 Harmony Korine wrote the screenplay for the Larry Clark film
Kids, an unflinching drama about kids engaging in underage sex and
drug use. Two years later, Korine made his directional debut with the
bleak, apocalyptic Gummo, which charted more absurdist waters in
a post-apocalyptic world of boredom and young people running amok.
Troubled youths is a reoccurring theme that has stayed with this former
skateboarder right up till now.
is a more accessible and commercial film than Gummo but its short
of a narrative and it lacks the matter-of-fact treatment of Kids.
There's a memorable visual style and a bizarre, entertaining performance
by James Franco, but not enough story or insight to certify its
importance. The film is long and flabby, its characters and plot
underdeveloped and Korine's direction lacks certainty. Is this a
critique of a self-absorbed generation, a comedy, a thriller or just an
exercise in perversion?
The film is about four bored college girls named Faith (Selena Gomez),
Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine),
who want to party during spring break. When they can't pool enough money
together for the trip, they decide to rob a diner. They reach the spring
break destination, only to be arrested by the police and then bailed out
by a man calling himself Alien (James Franco). He is a drug dealer that
encourages them to join him on a crime spree and wipe out a nearby rival
In an interview with the Australian movie magazine FilmInk, Korine
discussed his intentions for the film: "I make movies because I like the
story and the characters. I'm not making a movie that's an indictment on
American culture, or a movie that's about boobs or guns - those are
parts of that world and that fabric, but it's not about
that." As Korine suggests, the film's point becomes extremely elusive,
particularly when the filmic style is separated from the theme, and his
direction relies on technique to substitute plotting.
The early scenes work to instill feelings of belonging. The long shots
of the still, tired, grey and empty college grounds reflects the girls'
isolation because they fear they won't experience anything new or meet
anyone exciting as everyone has already left for spring break without
them. These shots are juxtaposed by the party scenes, which are filmed
through the extensive use of montage, with music playing over
slow-motion and highly saturated images.
It provides these ugly scenes of drinking, drugs and senseless nudity as
a dream-like vision of paradise in the minds of these morally corrupted
girls. "Pretend it's a video game...act like you're in a movie," one of
the girls says to further highlight their detachment from reality. The
night scenes reflect darkness in mood and lighting but also moral decay,
with only the fluorescent colours of the girls' costumes brightening the
screen to suggest their belief in their own self-importance, while the
broader landscape of society fades into the shadows.
However, the film's voyeuristic disposition reveals Korine's apathy
towards character development and narrative thrust. Korine's costume
choice of leaving the girls in their swimsuits for most of the film, and
the way that his camera lingers over those raunchy party scenes, evokes
an unintentionally creepy sense of perversion. Apart from the opening
scenes, the elaborate neon visuals eclipse the story and characters,
with the repetitive vision of raunchy partying making the film seem
excruciatingly long and banal.
Selena Gomez is the only standout of the girls, proving that she can act
by showing some believable emotion. However, the religious symbolism of
her character barely registers as one-dimensional and the other three
girls, despite their intimidation factor, are underwritten and lack
distinction. James Franco provides the most memorable role of his career
as Alien, a cross between a hip-hop rapper and the Devil, who has a
cornrows haircut, gold teeth and dresses like a gangster.
He's utterly mesmerising and funny, but what exactly does his character
want? He uses the girls for crime jobs but never really needed to as he
has his twin henchmen. Sex is an option he fulfils, but not straight
away either. A promising seed of conflict is planted when the girls look
as though they'll rob or kill Alien, only for the moment to fizzle out.
He embodies a bastardised version of the American Dream: to take
everything you want, while you can, but not understand what to do with
it. In a very funny scene, he showcases all of the useless things he was
able to obtain, including several kinds of shorts, a looping copy of
Scarface, and nunchucks.
Alien's artlessness is amplified strikingly through the film's best and
strangest scene, where he sits at a piano, surrounded by the girls
dressed in pink balaclavas, carrying assault weapons, and declares
Britney Spears as one of the best singers of all time. He starts singing
Britney's song "Everytime" and then a montage opens with the song
playing over images of the girls' crime spree. Decadence is visualised
magnificently but in the end the film is hypocritical: a hasty attack on
a pop generation when the film itself is not art but poorly disciplined
and morally questionable.